Abia Facts Newspaper team had an exclusive interview with the Honorable Commissioner for Commerce, Trade and Investment, Chief Charles Ogbonna recently. During the media interaction, issues concerning double taxation, clean up of the markets, investment drive and other sundry issues was discussed. Enjoy the full interview, Video also attached on our facebook page.
SIR, YOU ARE THE HONOURABLE COMMISSIONER FOR COMMERCE, TRADE AND INVESTMENTS. WHAT WERE YOUR CHALLENGES WHEN YOU FIRST GOT INTO THIS MINISTRY?
When i came into this Ministry like every other Ministry, it was very difficult. This place was like the office of the Chairman of Motorbikes. But then the challenge or challenges i observed was how to transform this place. What am i going to do to transform this place. In Trade and Investment, my major duty is to deal with traders. I started thinking what I am going to do to improve the relationship between the Government and the traders in the market? Because if you go to the market and talk about the Government, all they do is to snub you and they accuse you of multiple taxation. I took my time to observe this and i asked myself, what am i going to do?
The first things was to address the leadership of the market that are not friendly with the traders. With the Governor helping me, i laid down my program and the first thing was to dissolve the leadership of all the markets. The reason for dissolving the market is dominance, for example; if you go to Ala-oji market, 70% of traders there are from Enugu, 20% are from Anambra and 10% are Abia and others. There’s a polling unit in that market, you will understand what will happen if there’s to be an election since Enugu dominates there but then, people from Ugwunagbo are always insisting that they must be Chairman of the market, lording over people who dominates the market and i said ‘No’. I approached the Honourable member and others but the youths were saying no, that they must produce the Chairman of the market, i told them that it does not portray us as our brother’s keepers. The Chairman of the council, who really understood what i was trying to say agreed that an Enugu man will be the chairman, the youths came here and threatened me but it doesn’t concern me as i know that what i’m doing is for their own interest and for the interest of the Governor who is going to stand election. The people will say ‘since you ignored us, we will also ignore you and will not come out to vote for you.’
That is what we did in all the markets and the results we are getting already is superb. People are beginning to feel that they are part and parcel of what is being done in the State.
Secondly, i was in the market and i asked a woman a question, nobody knew that the Commissioner was around, the woman told me that every day she comes to the market, that they charge her N550 that the Governor said they should pay it and if you refuse to pay the ‘toll’ as they call it, they will carry your wares. I was surprised, she told me that the son sends her N50,000 monthly for her upkeep but because she does not want to sit down at home, she sets out to the market and these touts comes to collect money, they go round and round for this toll. I told the Governor that we must put a stop to toll collection at the market and will harmonize to see the ones that are necessary. We looked at sanitation and ASEPA which are almost same thing but have a slight difference, the Traders will clean up the market and pile refuse in one place, ASEPA will cart it away and that is when you pay toll for ASEPA and sanitation. I told him that that one is agreeable by me and the other one they say is ‘commissioner’s toll’ some people call it ‘Trading toll’ which i cancelled. I have been receiving so many applications from people, who applies to collect the commissioner’s toll, I told them that so far as i’m sitting here, no toll will be collected. If you put your wares in an unauthorized place, you will be charged for that one is legal and authorized by law but i cannot give you permission to go and harass women in the market. That’s the two areas we have been able to address.
Then we looked at Infrastructural levy which the traders pay in the market, this means that the traders pay money for the rehabilitation of infrastructure in the market. That is all wrong, on my own, i brought a construction company to Ariaria and with just a token, the man, who had love for the Governor and trust believing that i stick with my words, because we have done business together before when i was the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in the State, i showed the man the places which needed work in Ariaria and he agreed to start work. Go to Ariaria today and see what is happening there, just a token of N2,000,000 to buy gas and all that and i know that the Governor will agree with me that the Infrastructural levy traders pay to agents should be channeled into the total job that is being done there which will take up to N537,000,000. How do i pay? If we collect that money by the grace of God, we will match that thing, if you go into the market, the people are happy. If i’m paying you money, i expect to see the result of the money paid.
Government should be able to stand up to its responsibilities. I remember when i came back from Italy and went to sue Board of Internal Revenue for asking me to pay tax when there is no corresponding development, they said that i work for the Government, i confirmed that i work for the Government but i cannot defend the Government sheepishly and that is what we are doing at the market.
We have Eziukwu market that has been for long and dirty, we must clean up the market. What we are doing in Ariaria, we are going to do it in Ekeoha market so the challenges we have faced are being tackled one by one that the peculiar exercise will pay off in 2019. That is what we are talking about. If you tell a trader that you are coming to do this for him, you should be able to do it. Okezie have promised traders, partisans that he’ll take them to China and he has done it, that is a man leading by his words. We want to make sure that if you are asking one to come and invest in a market, that he has a conducive environment for such and those who have succeeded in doing that should be able to relax and enjoy the atmosphere where they invested their money.
HONOURABLE COMMISSIONER, IN THE CHRISTMAS MESSAGE OF THE GOVERNOR TO ABIANS, HE MENTIONED THAT 30 SHOE MAKERS WILL BE GOING TO CHINA. WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO DO THERE AND WHAT ARE THEY EXPECTED TO COME BACK WITH?
Thank you very much. You see, in the olden days, when you buy anything from the market, it is tagged ‘china made,’ people hardly recognized Japan and America. China sent their graduates to America, to infiltrate their market and bring home their technology, they did that and that is why they have all these technologies. That is exactly what the Governor is trying to achieve, the people he sent there are graduates who were sent there to understudy what these people are doing. The first batch have left and they are going to stay for 2 or 3 months, once they come back and the Government is able to procure machines that will help them actualize what they learnt in China, the sky will be our limit.
SIR, THIS ISI GATE MARKET, THAT MARKET HAS BEEN A PROBLEM FROM THE OLD ADMINISTRATION TO THE PRESENT ONE AND IT HAS NOTORIOUS PEOPLE WHO SELL DRUGS AND ALL MANNER OF THINGS MAKING IT SECURITY RISK,WILL THIS ADMISTRATION EXERCISE ANY CONSCIOUS EFFORT TO SANITIZE THE MARKET?
Well, it is a collective responsibility which i believe that all of us must put our hands on deck to clear that place. Definitely by the grace of God, we will do something, we have started doing something about it. Last month, a group of traders came to me and pleaded that we should allow them stay there and that by January, they will evacuate the premises so i allowed them. Also, there are people encouraging them, the first day we set out there to meet with the traders face to face to advise them to leave. A Bishop of this town called the Governor who was in a meeting in Abuja to advise me to allow the people do their trading, the Governor called and inquired my where about, when i told him my mission, he told me to hold on till he comes back because he listens to the Bishop. But that notwithstanding, we are doing our best, we are going to make sure that we do something there.
Two things, 1, we are waiting on House of Assembly to pass a law that will make street trading and selling along the streets illegal because we have empty markets everywhere and if you choose to sell in the street, you will pay heavy. If you are a cement trader, upholstery, you have to pay us N2,000,000 to sell in the streets, this is to deter them from selling on the street because they have a large area to operate on the market.
2, we are tasking everybody to go back to the specialize market, if your area of specialization is Ubani market, you must go back to Ubani market, if it industrial then you must go back to industrial market, that is what we are fighting for. We gave them 10th of January to go back but some people are saying that we should give them till 30th but from 10th, our public-address system will go from the street to street to announce it. When i told them that we are going to move the industrial market to Ahia-eke, they said no that nobody will go there but we were able to move it likewise when we moved Umuahia main market to Ubani market. By the time we set out, they will start frowning but we have been talking to them gently but they are not listening. We are talking with the Judiciary, Nigerian police to help us because we must clean up this town, it must be the State capital.
HOW WILL YOU BE ABLE TO CHECKMATE THOSE ILLEGAL TAXATION WHICH HAVE BEEN THERE FOR YEARS?
It’s a very difficult situation. I cannot be in Umuahia and Aba at same time, if you go to Magic FM in Aba, you will find out that we are owing them because i go on air everyday announcing to traders not to pay anything to anybody but the problem is that the traders are forced to pay these monies. The new executives which we formed were first taken to SSS for profiling and advised them on what to do and collected their numbers so anybody can know the number to call when in any difficulty. This is to make sure that the image of the Government is protected, people collects all sorts of money in the market without the consent of the Government and the money does not go to the Government purse. That is why i said that i am not giving any approval for collection of money in the markets, the only ones for now that we must adhere to will be the sanitations, ASEPA, storage, parts, hawkers permit and security.
You can’t just be tasking people for money anyhow, i went to Eke-oha market and jokingly asked a woman, she said that a woman comes there by 5pm to collect N100 from them, when i asked for the receipt, the woman told me that she doesn’t give any receipt. I asked the woman that why will a woman like you, come here and ask you to pay this money and you pay, she told me that everybody knows this woman and they pay. That is what happens in Aba, it is not like that in Umuahia, nobody will listen to you if you tell them that in Umuahia. It is surprising what happens in Aba, i have told the executives of the market that they are the eyes of the Government, they should be able to see into this issue of double taxations. If you are not benefitting from it then you must aid the Government to stop it. That is the effort we are making to stop these and by God’s grace, we will stop it.
THERE’S TAX THAT THEY SAID IS THE GOVERNORS’S TAX, WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT IT?
Some people are hell bent on destroying other people, somebody wrote a petition against the Governor’s wife, former deputy Governor and the aide. Some people use the Governor’s wife’s name to commit atrocities. How can the woman send someone to collect tax? What kind of tax? People go there to destroy the woman. Nobody will do that. If you say you paid, show me the receipts. Don’t you know the Governor’s wife? She cannot kill an ant. She is a very shy and serious Christian. I’ve known her for over 17 years now. Destroying people is an easy thing for people. People make a lot of money in Aba giving it one name or the other. I got an information that some people have started to collect revenue from people in Aba with fake approvals, i called my permanent secretary this morning, he said he has not given approval to anybody and they said it emanated from our office, he confirmed that he did not give any approval.
But i’ll definitely catch them, if i spend two nights in Aba, i’ll employ my boys there and they will definitely catch them. I’ll go to the market using them to tell them that there is no other revenue they are asked to pay and if they are told, they should call and ask the chairman.
HOW ARE YOU ATTRACTING INVESTMENTS TO ABIA STATE?
I’ve made a jingle that i’m taking to Abuja and Lagos, the jingles is asking our people to come and invest in Abia, that is the only thing we are asking for. If you seat there and wait for Chinese or Europeans to invest here when you have your own money is not proper and not going to happen. You need to invest here. Do you know what the Eze of Nnewi did, Nwafor Orizu, years ago, called all the prominent sons of Nnewi for a town hall meeting and asked them ‘if they are fools, you open a market in Lagos, you will stay there for 5 to 10 years and the Lagos State Government will tell you that you are constituting nuisance and show you another place to stay. You will go there and open it, do you know what happens? The price of the place has escalated, they want you to shift to another place and by so doing, you are developing their place for them. You say you are an Igbo man but you don’t know anything and they are using your brain. So, you better come down to Nnewi and develop your business, if what you are doing is good, people from Ibadan, Ogun and other States will come here and look for you.’ And that is what is happening in Nnewi today, if you have anything to manufacture, do it in Nnewi and that is why it has one of the best hotel in this country. People from all over the world goes to Nnewi to transact business.
And that is what we want to do in Ariaria, in Ariaria today, we have 12-hour constant electricity and we will keep developing it there so why can’t you open your small business there. It is only in Aba that you will see constant 12-hour electricity in a business area in this country. An Igbo man sold his petrol station in Maiduguri for N2,000,000 just to save himself and come back home. This is a petrol station that took him over N50,000,000 to build. If he had built that petrol station in Igbo land, it would have been there so let’s tell our people to come back and invest here and that is why we are sending the jingles so we can tell our people to come and invest here. Even the traders, you have the money to invest in this market, if you invest in it, you safe guard it because it is yours, develop the market.
There is no country in West Africa that does not come to Ariaria to do business so why are we shying away from it, the people are happy coming but indigenes are not happy investing their money. Why? So my idea as the chief trader of Abia State is to tell our people to invest their money first and let the foreigner and see the investment so he will invest in it too. We are traders by nature, we can’t run away from it and we can only help ourselves if we invest in Abia State.